Hermes, Zeus's Right Hand

Hermes, the messenger of Olympus

Hermes was the messenger and herald of the Olympian gods. He was the son of Zeus and the pleiade Maia, daughter of the titan Atlas.

According to Homer, the god was born in a cave of Mount Cyllene.

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A great prankster

The god's relationships with gods and mortals

God's lovers and children

The god's many powers

A great prankster

As the myth goes, Hermes was well known for being a prankster, playing practical jokes on both gods and mortals.

One of his most notable pranks, is linked with the god Apollo:

While the god was still an infant, he went from Cyllene where he was born, to Pieria, where the cattle of Apollo were kept. After managing to steal them, he led the animals to Pylos where he hid them and then returned himself back to Cyllene.

As a matter of fact, the infant god was so diligent in his actions, that he made sure that all the tracks made by the hooves of the animals were carefully erased, so that they were hard to be traced.

When he returned to Cyllene, he killed a tortoise and used her shell together with intestines he removed from some of the cattle he had killed, to invent the lyre.

But, there was one thing that the crafty littler god did not take account in his malicious endeavor:Apollo had the power of prophecy, so it was very easy for him to discover in no time, who the scoundrel was, who stole his property.

So, rushing to Cyllene, the god of light snatched little Hermes and took him to Olympus, to be judged by the mighty ruler of heavens, Zeus.

At first, little Hermes denied the charges of theft, but later on he had to admit he was indeed the culprit.

As a way to pacify his god brother Apollo, the little prankster gave him the lyre he invented, as a gift. In return, Apollo gave him a long, strong stick to help him control his cattle while they were grazing, as well as the gift of prophecy.

Their friendship was thus sealed and Apollo swore that Hermes would forever be his favorite, among both gods and mortals.


The god's relationships with gods and mortals

Hermes took part in the battle of the Giants and was able to kill Hippolytus thanks to a magic helmet that the god was given by Hades, making whoever wore it invisible.

Hermes served Zeus and executed his commands quite willingly. Because of his eagerness to help and his intelligence, the mighty ruler of heavens would seek the god's assistance in all difficult situations, especially in those compromising ones that had to do with his illicit romances and desperately needed excuses to evade his wife's Hera's jealousy and anger.

Hermes was not only the herald and messenger only of Zeus, but of all the Olympians who sought after his help.

He freed Ares, who had been locked in a bronze jail by the giants Otus and Ephialtes; he is the one who led Athena, Hera and Aphrodite in front of the young Trojan prince Paris, in order to be judged in that notorious beauty contest, which later sparked the Trojan War; finally, he was present when Hades snatched Persephone tp take her to the Underworld, as well as when she then returns back to earth, to her mother Demeter.

The god was deemed responsible for selling the mighty hero Hercules as a slave, but he also stood by the hero when he was in dire straits: When Hercules descended to the Underworld to steal Cerberus , in order to fulfill the last of his labors, dictated to him by king Eurystheus.

Hermes also encouraged Perseus to kill the horrible Medusa. As a token of his gratitude, Perseus gave the god a magic helmet (Hades's cap) that he was given by the Naiads, while in return Hermes gave the hero an adamant sword, which was the weapon that Perseus used to take Medusa's head.


God's lovers and children

As is the case with the other Olympians, Hermes was claimed to have a prolific love life as well. His most well known romances and the children he had, are the following:

  • With the nymph Dryope, he fathered Pan, a deity who was half man, half goat. According to ancient myths, Pan appears to be one of god Dionysus's loyal followers.
  • Daphnis, a Sicilian hero who tended his herds on the slopes of Mount Aetna, was a son of Hermes and a nymph. The hero owes his name to his birth in a laurel wood and he is considered to be the inventor of bucolic poetry.

    Daphnis was exceptionally handsome and he sang beautiful love songs which he accompanied with a musical instrument.

    According to a myth, the Sicilian hero had died in the prime of his life, after being blinded by one of the nymphs, Naias, because he betrayed her with the daughter of the Sicilian king. In other versions, Daphnis either fell off a rock or was turned into a rock, or was carried to the heavens by his divine father, while Sicilians later made offerings on the spot from which he disappeared.

  • Hermaphroditus was the very beautiful son of Hermes and Aphrodite.

    As the myth goes, once, as he was wandering through a forest of Halicarnassus, he stopped by a lake to see his reflection in the water of a lake. The lake's nymph Salmacis saw him and immediately fell madly in love with the handsome youth.

    In order to avoid her, he jumped into the river. The nymph, followed him until he embraced him passionately, praying to the gods to unite them forever.

    The gods heard her prayers and fused their bodies into one, so that no one could tell whether the body belonged to a man or a woman. According to the myth, any man who would later bathe in the waters of that lake, would become a woman.

    The ancient Greeks persecuted hermaphrodites and threw them into the sea. It was not until late seventeenth century that their rights were respected by law.


The god's many powers

Hermes Usher of souls to Hades
Hermes Usher of souls to Hades

The god had many diverse powers, which made him one of the most well known and revered gods of the olympian pantheon. These capacities of the god are the following:

  • Herald and Messenger:Brave and wing-footed, Hermes became the gods' messenger and herald. His symbol was the kerykeion, a gold wand that was first depicted as being branched and later as having two snakes, or two feathers wrapped around the ends. His other symbol was a pair of winged sandals.
  • Patron of youth: Hermes was the most youthful of all the Olympians, representing the ideal form of ancient greek youthfulness. Like Apollo and Hercules, the god was the patron of gymnasium and palaistra, buildings used for athletic and educational activities.

    Athletic contests were held throughout Greece in the god's honor. These competitions were known as Hermaia.

  • Patron of herds: The god's capacity as protector of herds and agriculture in general, is evident from the use of epithets such as Milosoos, Nomios and Epimilios, as well as from localized versions of myths in areas where the god was worshipped. This is especially true in the case of the grazing lands of Arcadia, where the god's birthplace, Mount Cyllene, is located.
  • Patron of roads: The god was considered the patron and savior of travelers, who called him Odeios, Enodeios, Hegemoneios and Agetor.

    Proof of this are the stone heaps known as hermaia, that travelers erected as markers along paths to guide fellow travelers where there were no roads.

  • Patron of trades and theft: Merchants considered the god to be their patron and called him kerdoos, (kerdos in Greek, means profit).

    He was credited with inventing weights and measures, a fact which explains why statues of the god in the agora (ancient greek public place) depicted him holding a pouch full of coins.

    Because fraud and theft also was associated with the activity of trade, Hermes was the patron of thieves as well. According to myth, he was a thief himself, when, being just an infant, he stole the cattle from his divine brother, Apollo.

  • Patron of scholars: The god was noted for his superior intelligence and powers of persuasion. He was known as logios (meaning scholar) and was considered the patron of orators and philosophers.

    The ancient Greeks credited the god with the invention of writing. In addition, being the son of Maia who later became a constellation, Greeks also considered him the patron of Astronomy and, by extension, the father of mathematics.

  • Patron of health, sleep and dreams: Although he was not officially the god of medicine (his brother Apollo was), the god helped people who were ill. In Tanagra, inhabitants would tell the story of how the god saved them from a plague, by walking around their city, carrying a ram on his shoulders.

    The god was also knowledgeable about the medicinal herbs that grew on the slopes of Mount Cyllene, where he was born. He used his knowledge to give the hero Odysseus a moly, a small white flower with a black root, to protect him from Circe's sorcery.

    The god was also known as hypnodotis or sleep giver; he brought sleep and wakefulness and was also the sender of dreams.

  • Companion of the Dead: The god was also known as the bearer of the souls of people who died, to the Underworld. He was thus known as Psychopompos, psychagogos, or tamias ton nekron (meaning treasurer of the dead).

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